Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania

In 1777, Claudius Boatman, intrepid pioneer, left Warwick, New York, and with his family, settled into Mahoning township, in Northumberland county i Pennsylvania. The move would prove to be something like the proverbial “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”  Times were brutal during the Revolutionary War, especially in Northumberland county, and especially along the Susquehanna.

As the battles of the Revolution encompassed them, families in the area drew into the more populated and heavily defended areas of the frontier, sometimes for days or weeks, and perhaps even longer. The Boatman land in Mahoning was on the very edges of the frontier, but during the Revolution most of the records on the family were generated in the Buffalo Valley area of Pennsylvania: Derrstown (now Lewisburg,) Milton, Buffalo Valley and Fort Rice. This doesn’t appear to be a permanent move as the family applied for their land in Mahoning at the close of the war; it seems likely that during more “peaceable” times the Boatmans may have, like most settlers in the area, returned for periods, or at the least to sow and reap.

Big Runaway Map

Big Runaway Map

In June of 1778, the settlers of the area sent a petition from Muncy Hills appealing for aid prior to the “Great Runaway.”  The language is colorful, the emotion runs high, and it is signed by various members of the “distressed community.”  Both Claudius Boatman and Comfort Wanzer were signers.  One has to wonder if the Boatman family had made the trip to the Muncy area from their home near Mahoning to sign the petition or if the family was already there with other settlers.  iii


The “Great Runaway,” sometimes called the “Big Runaway,” refers to a time period in the area of Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna Valley, when residents abandoned their farms and homes to gather in the nearby strongholds for protection after a series of heavy Indian raids. During the Great Runaway, “settlers above Lycoming creek fled to Antes Fort, those along Bald Eagle fled to Harris Fort, at Muncy they were sheltered at Captain John Brady’s, and those above Muncy to Lycoming Creek fled to Samuel Wallis’ home…Fishing Creek and Mahoning have all come to the river side.”  Many fled on foot and at night, others by raft down the river with what possessions they could salvage as their homes burned behind them.

rachelCould Rachel Silverthorn, who made an epic ride to warn outlying settlers in 1778 of an impending attack, warned the Boatmans?  When Captain Brady offered his white horse, asking for a volunteer to ride with a warning, no man stepped forward.  From the back of the crowd stepped up Rachel, and before anyone could react, she flew on the horse.  Rachel returned safely that night, under cover of darkness.

wallisWhile Muncy is often thought of as a fort, these “forts” are not what we usually think of as “forts” today, with the exception of Fort Augusta left from earlier conflicts with the French – most were homes, some perhaps more strongly built than others – certainly not impressive in any way according to today’s standards.  A few had pickets around them – being hastily reinforced.  At the time of the Great Runaway, Fort Muncy was just being built.  Only two structures survived the burnings:  One was the Wallis house, (left) the stone portion being the only part in existence at the time, and the other “Fort” Antes, the home of Col. John Antes which had been surrounded by hard to burn peeled oak pickets.

potterIt appears, for a time, things cooled off in the area, but the “Spring of 1781 advanced hostilities.”  General Potter wrote on the 12th of March that “since the 22nd, five distinct attacks in the district had been made.” iv  In another letter, April 12th (1781) Potter speaks about the state of the local militia. (see right.) v

In 1781, the Boatman family were in Buffalo, now Union county, where Claudius appeared on a list of residents there. vi  It’s difficult to say if the Boatmans were sheltering temporarily in Buffalo Valley when Claudius joined Robinson’s Rangers, or if the family was there because Claudius had joined.  The compiled list seems to be the roster of soldiers (below) loosely from the area, not indicative of specific residence.

“In 1781, the first battalion of Northumberland county militia, commanded by Colonel John Kelly, was composed of the following companies: Captain John Foster, numbering, officers and privates, 55 men…Among the rangers commanded by Captain Thomas Robinson, June 1, occur the following from Buffalo Valley: Claudius Boatman, fifer, William Armstrong, Ludwig Rough, Conrad Katherman, Jacob Links.” vii

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Meginness has the following to say about Captain Thomas Robinson, of Robinson’s Rangers: “About this time a new man appeared on the scene, who was to take part in the closing military operations in this valley. On the 15th of June, 1781, Captain Thomas Robinson wrote President Reed from Sunbury, stating that he was making every possible effort to recruit a company, and had already secured fifty-two men to serve “during the war.” The want of necessary money and clothing, he remarked, put it out of his power “to render that service to this distressed part of the county he could otherwise do.” viii For more information on Claudius’ service in the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolution, see the Revolution tab.

In August of 1782, about a year after Claudius had signed the petition in Muncy, he was affected by his own tragedy – the Lee Massacre which involved the Boatman family.  While some records conflict, Claudius lost his wife, Marie, and it appears his daughter, Rebecca, was scalped.  (More on this in a new tab I’ll be setting up, as there is much conflicting information in various reports.)  Most of reports indicate Mrs. Boatman and daughter were visiting the Lee family (about four miles away from the Boatman’s home near Derrstown) when Mrs. Boatman was killed and her daughter was partially scalped. Rebecca was purportedly carried to Fort Rice, which stood on the site of Washingtonville, by Henry McHenry and Thomas Doyle, accompanied by her father. ix

fortriceThe descendants of James Boatman relate a story quite different from the stories appearing in local histories, but give some insight into the family. x  “…The great-great-grandfather Boatman was of French descent, enlisting as a soldier under Lafayette, & taking part in many of the actions of the Revolutionary War. He remained in America at the close of the war where he had married & raised a small family, of which the members were nearly all massacred by the Indians in PA. James Boatman was born in Northumberland Co., PA about 1771, as nearly as can be told. On the 22nd of Aug 1799, he married Anna Mills, dau/o Col. James Mills, & emigrated to OH two years after…”

Sign erected in 1947 by Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Sign erected in 1947 by Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

“Himself (James Boatman) wife, brothers and sisters were great hunters. In Pennsylvania they would go out hunting many miles from home & remain for weeks. The game was bears, raccoons, deer, & turkeys, besides small fry. They were often chased by the Indians, having many narrow escapes.  On one occasion, while he & his sister were hunting, they were pursued by Indians, & his sister was caught, scalped, & left for dead.  She escaped, recovered, & afterwards married …& lived to a good old age, although without a forelock, which was artificially supplied.”

Claudius Boatman, sometime after the tragedy in which his wife, Marie, was killed, and prior to his move to Pine Creek, married again, to Esther.  The family lived near Derr’s run, close to an Indian trading post, Derr’s landing, now Lewisburg in Union County.  It’s a little uncertain when this marriage took place, but probably at least six months or so after Marie’s death and prior to filing on the Mahoning land. xi

boatmanhomePresumably in the Buffalo Valley area, the family had a home at the plantation of Colonel W. G. Herrold. xii  How the family was affiliated with the Colonel is uncertain, as well as when and exactly where this residence was occupied by the Boatman family.  It may be possible W. G. Herrold was a military acquaintance of Claudius’.

The Revolutionary War was essentially ended after the close of hostilities in November of 1783.  Robinson’s Rangers were “keeping garrison” at Wilkes-Barre Fort near Wyoming.  It seems likely the Boatmans returned to their land in Mahoning as Claudius filed for it on July 1st, 1784.

I’ve had a lot of fun researching Claudius, and am pleased to share everything I’ve learned, much of it due to other researchers before me – please feel free to use anything on this site – I do ask you to source it, though, so others may find it. And please, share what you know in the same spirit this has been shared – I welcome all corrections, thoughts and discussion. mvkirby – I can be emailed directly at lostroots59@gmail.com


Sources and Links:

If you have an interest in exploring more about the forts of the area, including Fort Rice, “The Frontier Forts within the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River“gives detail and history.

i Claudius lived in Northumberland County, known as the “Mother” of all counties; at it’s inception, Northumberland covered a huge area of Pennsylvania. Subsequently it was divided into a number of counties, and many of those counties divided again.Finding records can be challenging, and Claudius Boatman and family is mentioned in several different histories and annals from various counties in the area. This doesn’t necessarily translate into movements on Claudius’ part, but in changes in designation of area due to the various divisions. History didn’t happen inside county lines.
ii Land Warrants – 1733 – 1952 Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA
iii History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (1892) Author: edited by John F. Meginness — History Publisher: Chicago, Ill. : Brown, Runk, page 130
iv History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (1892) Author: edited by John F. Meginness — History Publisher: Chicago, Ill. : Brown, Runk, page 181
v “History of that part of the Susquehanna and Juniata valleys, embraced in the counties of Mifflin, Juniata, Perry, Union and Snyder, in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania …” Volume 1, Author Franklin Ellis, Publisher Everts, Pecks & Richards, Philadelphia, 1886, page 116
vi Annals of Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania, 1755-1855 (1877) Author: Linn, John Blair, 1831-1899 — History; Buffalo Creek Valley (Union County, Pa.) — Genealogy Publisher: Harrisburg, Pa. : L.S. Hart, page 191
vii Annals of Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania, 1755-1855 (1877) Author: Linn, John Blair, 1831-1899 — History; Buffalo Creek Valley (Union County, Pa.) — Genealogy Publisher: Harrisburg, Pa. : L.S. Hart, page 204
viii History of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (1892) Author: edited by John F. Meginness — History Publisher: Chicago, Ill. : Brown, Runk, page 182
ix Lock Haven Express, 22 Jul 1966, author Joseph Cox, original sources for article unknown
x A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County Ohio, With Illustrations and Sketches its Representative Men and Pioneers Cincinnati Ohio. Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1882. pages 446 & 447
xi “On the Frontier with Colonel Antes” by Edward MacMinn, Published 1900 by S. Chew and Sons printers, Camden, New Jersey

xii Snyder County Annals: a collection of all kinds of historical items affecting Snyder County from the settlement of the first pioneers in this section, to the names of the soldiers in the World War, 1917-Author: Wagenseller, George Washington, 1868- Volume: 1, Publisher: Middleburgh, Pennsylvania, Middleburgh Post, page 13

Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution : battalions and line, 1775-1783, edited by John Blair Linn and William H. Egle, M.D., Volume II, published in Harrisburg by Lane S. Hart, State printer in 1880  Viewable here: Volume 1: Pennsylvania in the War of the Revolution

5 thoughts on “Buffalo Valley, Pennsylvania

  1. Hi There – I just noticed that your table of contents at top says Buffalo Valley NY but believe it should say Buffalo Valley, PA.

    • Thanks – obviously too many late nights spent working on this! I’ll correct it asap – but a good lesson to learn, sometimes the obvious escapes us and a new perspective is what it takes to get back on the right track!

  2. My experience has always been the more I work on and look at something I have written the more likely I am to miss something obvious. Proof readers are always a bonus 🙂

  3. In my research of my brother in laws family I came across an Elizabeth Prager nee Morrison living in Wheeling, West Virginia. In the History of the Upper Ohio Valley Vol 1 (1890)

    It states “Elizabeth Morrison – This lady was born in March 1821 of a family that was prominent in the pioneer history of Pennsylvania. Her grandmother Mrs Smea, was scalped by the Indians during one of their raids upon the settlement, but the survived the injury”

    I suspect this was actually “Smee” and this grandmother was possibly Rebecca Boatman – I have yet to find a definitive link for Elizabeth Morrison who was living in Pittsburgh in 1840 before coming with her husband to Wheeling to the Smee/Boatman families.
    I know one of the Boatman’s married a Morrison if not two sets but still not able to make a link…

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